Borrowed technique can save patients’ eyes

Tufts ophthalmologists are using corneal crosslinking to treat dogs and horses with injured eyes

A new veterinary technique out of Tufts University is expected to save the eyes of countless canine and equine patients.

Veterinary ophthalmologists at the university’s Cummings Veterinary Medical Center have started using corneal crosslinking—a treatment borrowed from human medicine—to help spare the injured eyes of animals and/or avoid potentially scarring surgery.

Traditionally used to treat keratoconus (or drooping corneas) in people, crosslinking uses eye drops of riboflavin and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light to bolster sagging corneas and make them more rigid, researchers say.

While animals do not get keratoconus, crosslinking is effective in the veterinary treatment of corneal ulcers or infections. According to Tufts ophthalmologists, it is particularly effective for treating dogs and horses with “melting” ulcers, whereby a wound to the cornea causes surrounding tissue to break down.

“If we use crosslinking, we can stabilize those corneas quite nicely and stop that process in its tracks,” says Stephanie Pumphrey, an assistant professor at Cummings School. “It helps us save eyes we’d otherwise be unable to, and it also can get pets off medications sooner, which can be a big help for pet owners.”

Researchers say this technique is useful for the eye health of brachycephalic breeds, such as bulldogs and pugs, as they are prone to bumping into things and scratching their corneas.

Additionally, as patients undergoing the treatment typically only require sedation, crosslinking is also particularly beneficial for equine patients.

“With horses, we worry a lot about anesthesia because things can always go wrong when you’re dropping a horse and having it get back up again,” Pumphrey says. “But we often can do crosslinking as a standing procedure in horses, which eliminates those risks.”

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